Journalism

Politico Science Experiments: Will This GOP Lie Work? What If We Help It Along, Will It Work Then?

Or MAYBE you could maybe point out they're lying.

Politico ran an impressively bad piece Tuesday on the New Mexico special election to fill Deb Haaland's former congressional seat, now that Haaland's become secretary of the Interior. The piece asks what seems like an important question: How will Democrats respond to Republicans who accuse them of wanting to eliminate the police and let all the bad guys out of prison, huh? Rather than highlighting that the Republican talking point is bullshit, the story frames the two candidates as simply offering different perspectives.

Melanie Stansbury, the Democratic candidate in next week's special congressional election here, spent last weekend touting Joe Biden's agenda, vowing to strengthen infrastructure and fight climate change, drought and hunger.

Her Republican opponent used the same preelection push to warn that she would be heading to Washington to "defund the police" and back legislation to close all federal prisons within 10 years, releasing infamous criminals out on the street.

"Think about who's in federal prison right now: El Chapo, the co-founder of al Qaeda, the Oklahoma City bomber, the Unabomber," state Sen. Mark Moores told a luncheon of three dozen Republican women on Friday. "That is how radical this agenda is, and we have to stop it." [While Timothy McVeigh was executed 20 years ago, Terry Nichols is still in Supermax. — Dok]

As Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman points out on the Twitter box, there's a bit of a problem with that third paragraph: It's not true, but Politico only explains that it's false some 14 paragraphs later, and then "only vaguely."

Instead of calling attention to the lie, Waldman notes, Politico only asks, "Is this clever gambit going to work?" And when political reporting reduces lying to a clever tactic, he says, that simply encourages more lying. Well sure, if it works!

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Crime

Commerce Department Dipsh*t Tried To Run Very Own Illegal Spy Agency, Oops

The Derp State in action.

In a real life version of that "Kids in the Hall" sketch where a mail clerk gets a promotion and goes mad with his very limited power, the Washington Post reveals that the supervisor of an "obscure security unit" in the Commerce Department got some funny ideas about what his job was supposed to be. The "Investigations and Threat Management Service" (ITMS) is supposed to be concerned with keeping Commerce officials and facilities safe, but under supervisor George Lee, ITMS morphed into a kind of counterintelligence outfit, but without any actual legal authority to do spy stuff. Under Lee, the unit did half-assed investigations of Commerce employees and regular Americans, based mostly on whatever whims Lee might have about how to protect the Commerce Department from enemies foreign and domestic.

This has the potential to make a really good dark farce, with the right director and screenplay. The unit

covertly searched employees' offices at night, ran broad keyword searches of their emails trying to surface signs of foreign influence and scoured Americans' social media for critical comments about the census, according to documents and interviews with five former investigators.

In one instance, the unit opened a case on a 68-year-old retiree in Florida who tweeted that the census, which is run by the Commerce Department, would be manipulated "to benefit the Trump Party!" records show.

In another example, the unit searched Commerce servers for particular Chinese words, documents show. The search resulted in the monitoring of many Asian American employees over benign correspondence, according to two former investigators.

And while that may sound like the sort of stuff Donald Trump loved doing, as with William Barr's turning the Justice Department into Trump's own vendetta operation, the mind-blowing thing about the ITMS abuses is that Lee appears to have taken the security unit off the rails long before Trump even ran for president. It's not even clear that anyone outside Commerce knew of Lee's weird investigations, which seem to have targeted people regardless of their political outlook. We have a feeling there's still a lot more to be discovered about all of this, but for the moment, it doesn't look like Lee was pursuing anyone's agenda but his own, regardless of Trump's misuse of executive power elsewhere. I think it's more like some minor gangster who was running his own scams well before the arrival of a new Don.

And here's another surprise: The whole mess drew the attention of what seems to be one of the few competent people in Wilbur Ross's Commerce Department, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Intelligence and Security John Costello, who was so concerned about internal probes of the office that he recommended last fall that ITMS be dissolved, although that recommendation was never acted upon by higher-ups. Costello resigned after the January 6 insurrection, because he apparently had some integrity.

After the Post started asking for comment on details, the Biden administration suspended all operations of the ITMS, so that's good!

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Journalism

Billy Barr Has Found The Wire Tappers, And They Were Him

Do they want to cop to invading any other reporters' private info?

In the latest revelation of an agency gone totally off the rails during the last year of Trump's disastrous presidency, the Justice Department just copped to secretly obtaining phone and email records for CNN reporter Barbara Starr. Remember when Trump spent years whining that Obama tapped his wires? Yeah, it's always, always, always projection with these people.

CNN reported last night that it received a letter from the DOJ on May 13 disclosing that the government sought and obtained a warrant for the veteran military reporter's phone and email logs for June and July of 2017. At some unspecified point during 2020, the government says it accessed "non content material," that is records of whom she spoke and corresponded with and when, but not the communications themselves. In light of the Trump administration's obsession with catching leakers and its admission that she was not the target of the investigation, we can safely read this as an effort to discover the identity of a government source for Starr's reporting. During the period in question, Starr published stories on North Korea, Syria, and Afghanistan.

File this one under "legal but highly irregular." (Before Bill Barr, President Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder also went after national security leaks, as well as the reporters they were in contact with.) Clearly there are major First Amendment implications here, which is why the DOJ Attorney's Manual characterizes media warrants as "extraordinary measures, not standard investigatory practices," requiring sign-off by the attorney general himself and eventual disclosure to the affected journalists. And yet this is the fourth reporter this month to receive such a letter.

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Post-Racial America

It Can't Be Cancel-Culture Because Nikole Hannah-Jones Is Black And A Lady

Cancel culture only affects white dudes whose editors are sick of their shit.

For all the blather we regularly hear from wingnuts who think that Twitter is violating the First Amendment (It can't! It's not the government!), the political Right has been awfully quiet about an actual case of a government entity interfering in an academic hire for political reasons. In April, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill proudly announced that its Hussman School of Journalism and Media would be hiring journalist (and UNC alum) Nikole Hannah-Jones for the university's prestigious Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. The job traditionally comes with tenure, as a recognition of general outstandingness of achievement in the journalistic field.

Hannah-Jones has a long career in investigative journalism, and in 2019 made a huge splash in media and culture for organizing the New York Times Magazine's "1619 Project" and writing the lead essay for the project. That essay earned her the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, and the eternal hatred of rightwing media, because the 1619 Project suggested that American history should be viewed primarily through the lens of slavery and the oppression of Black people, when any white fool knows America is the best country ever, founded by God to eventually elect Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.

So yeah, that's why Hannah-Jones was denied tenure. The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, after a lobbying campaign, refused to approve a tenure recommendation that had been approved at every level of UNC Chapel Hill's faculty and administration, effectively killing it. Oddly, Donald Trump Jr. hasn't said a word about out of control cancel culture.

Since the board's decision meant it couldn't offer Hannah-Jones tenure, UNC's Hussman School instead hired her for a five-year appointment as a "Professor of the Practice," with the option of considering her again for tenure at the end of the appointment. Maybe by then, the idiocy over the 1619 Project will have blown over. Or maybe universities will have been burned to the ground; times remain weird.

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